Knight rides in to Warwick to clean up layoff mess

Sir Bill Wakeham chairs independent review into redundancy blunders. Melanie Newman reports

February 11, 2010

The former chair of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Sir Bill Wakeham, has been drafted in to sort out a blunder over redundancies at the University of Warwick.

Warwick's Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies was closed in September 2009 and its 31 PhD students were transferred to other departments, along with two degree programmes.

Three members of staff were redeployed, including the centre's head, Susan Bassnett. Three others were offered voluntary redundancy.

When the trio rejected the offer, they were threatened with compulsory redundancy.

Under the university's statutes, all academic redundancies must be scrutinised by a redundancy committee. On this occasion, the committee advised Warwick's governing council that the case for axing the staff had not been made.

A source at Warwick said the arguments submitted to justify the cuts were "completely inadequate". They covered just one A4 page and contained no financial information.

The council followed the committee's advice, refusing to approve the redundancies, and told managers to reconsider the cases.

However, by this time the centre had been closed.

A spokesman for Warwick said the university then arranged for Sir Bill, former vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, to chair an independent review of the process. "The review concluded that the university's procedures under statute to confirm academic redundancies had not been fully followed in this case," he said.

He added that the university was now in formal discussions with the individuals involved.

A spokesman for the University and College Union said: "Sir Bill has given the university some alternative strategies for sorting this out.

"The three staff effectively have been on gardening leave since September as they have no jobs but are getting full pay. The unions, the academics and management have met on a number of occasions and there are offers on the table.

"If the staff don't accept the offers then the redundancy procedure will be re-run. Even those staff initially redeployed will have their new contracts withdrawn."

Times Higher Education understands that the centre had been riven with internal problems before its closure. However, the spokesman said it was closed because "it was no longer sustainable as a centre".

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